Re-Ranking the Rotations of the NL Central

Kyle Newport@@KyleNewportFeatured ColumnistMay 8, 2013

Re-Ranking the Rotations of the NL Central

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    Over one month has gone by in the 2013 Major League Baseball season, and the St. Louis Cardinals have dominated the National League Central with the league's best starting rotation.

    Entering May, the NL Central was the only division to have four teams above .500. Pitching has been the biggest reason for the division's success.

    Teams in the division have combined to go 25-16 against the NL East, with the Chicago Cubs (3-4) as the only team with a losing record, and 6-2 against the American League. The NL East is built on strong pitching, but the Central has outdueled them in the early goings.

    The division currently features three of the top rotations in baseball, and one of those teams may surprise fans. 

    These rankings are based on a combination of earned run averages, innings pitched, average against and sustainability.

     

    *All stats are via MLB.com and accurate as of 5/7/13

No. 5: Milwaukee Brewers

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    Starters:

    Yovani Gallardo (7 GS, 42 IP, 3-1, 4.50 ERA, .287 Batting Average Against)

    Kyle Lohse (6 GS, 37 IP, 1-3, 3.16 ERA, .271 BAA)

    Marco Estrada (7 GS, 38.2 IP, 2-2, 6.05 ERA, .293 BAA)

    Wily Peralta (7 GS, 39 IP, 3-2, 5.54 ERA, .293 BAA)

    Hiram Burgos (3 GS, 18 IP, 1-0, 3.00 ERA, .197 BAA)

    Milwaukee has already faced three of the top four offenses in the NL, and the Brewers are about to face the only other one this weekend. Against Colorado, Arizona and St. Louis, the Brewers have gone 2-11. They'll see the Cincinnati Reds this weekend.

    The Brewers' starters have done well against the weaker offenses, but they've found out that they don't have the starting pitching to compete against the best. The starters have averaged over four runs in only 5.1 innings per start in the games against the top offenses.

    It's understandable to allow runs to the top offenses, but the starters aren't giving their team much of a chance, especially when they exit early. The starters have only had three quality starts in those 13 games, and Kyle Lohse has two of them.

    Lohse has been a great addition to this staff. He didn't allow more than three runs in any start in April, but he has been the victim of little support. Milwaukee has lost four of his six starts, mainly because the offense has scored a total of two runs in those games.

    Hiram Burgos has done well in three starts, and the Brewers will need him to keep it up. 

    Yovani Gallardo got off to a shaky start before turning it around recently. He had three consecutive quality starts heading into his last start. 

    Other than Lohse, there hasn't been much for Brewers fans to be happy about with this rotation. Burgos has been tough to hit, but he still remains a mystery at this point. The Brewers really need Gallardo to continue to pitch well, which would give them a formidable duo at the front of the rotation.

    Unfortunately for Milwaukee, the back of the rotation has been a mess.

No. 4: Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Starters: 

    A. J. Burnett (8 GS, 49 IP, 3-3, 2.57 ERA, .194 BAA)

    Wandy Rodriguez (6 GS, 31.1 IP, 2-2, 4.02 ERA, .222 BAA)

    James McDonald* (6 GS, 29.2 IP, 6-6, 5.76 ERA, .252 BAA)

    Jeff Locke (6 GS, 33.2 IP, 3-1, 3.21 ERA, .225 BAA)

    Jeanmar Gomez (7 G/2 GS, 22.2 IP, 2-0, 2.38 ERA, .222 BAA)

    Jonathan Sanchez** (4 GS, 11.1 IP, 0-3, 12.71 ERA, .404 BAA)

    *McDonald was placed on the disabled list on Tuesday, courtesy of Pirates.com.

    **Sanchez was designated for assignment last week, and Charlie Morton and Francisco Liriano are expected to join the rotation within the next week.

    This hasn't been the rotation that Pirates fans expected to see, but they will see a big change soon. 

    A.J. Burnett has been sensational, as expected. He has not allowed more than three runs in any start and has allowed more than two runs only twice. The right-hander has 66 strikeouts in 49 innings and has struck out at least eight batters in all but two starts.

    After its ace, Pittsburgh has had some issues in its rotation. Injuries have been a major problem so far. Wandy Rodriguez was banged up early, James McDonald just went down and the team is still waiting on Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton to return from injuries.

    Jonathan Sanchez was a disaster during his time in Pittsburgh, but the Pirates ended that experiment now that they have two pitchers close to returning from the disabled list.

    Rodriguez's numbers are great outside of a bad start against the Brewers. He has allowed a total of six runs in four (full) starts. 

    Jeanmar Gomez's numbers have been good so far, but don't expect him to stay in the rotation. He hasn't gone deep in either of his starts, and his past starting experience didn't turn out well. His lowest ERA for a season as a starter is 4.47, so he will get yanked when the Pirates get healthy.

    Consistency is the issue for Jeff Locke. He has starts where he allows four runs, and he has games in which teams can't touch him. He has faced a tough slate so far (Cincinnati, St. Louis, Atlanta, etc.), and he has pitched as well as the team could've hoped.

    The Pirates could have a solid rotation once they get healthy, but they will have to find a way to get quality starts out of their current pitchers.

No. 3: Chicago Cubs

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    Starters:

    Jeff Samardzija (7 GS, 43.2 IP, 1-4, 3.09 ERA, .210 BAA)

    Travis Wood (7 GS, 46.1 IP, 3-2, 2.33 ERA, .179 BAA)

    Carlos Villanueva (7 GS 47.2 IP, 1-2, 3.02 ERA, .207 BAA)

    Edwin Jackson (7 GS, 38 IP, 0-5, 6.39 ERA, .284 BAA

    Scott Feldman (6 GS, 36.2 IP, 3-3, 2.70 ERA, .200 BAA)

    Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson are the biggest names in this rotation, but Travis Wood is very quietly turning into a great pitcher.

    Wood has seven quality starts this season and has not allowed more than two runs in five of those starts. He doesn't light up the radar gun, but hitters have a tough time hitting him. At some point in the left-hander's career, Wood may throw a no-hitter with his deceptive stuff.

    Patrick Corbin of the Arizona Diamondbacks is the only other pitcher in baseball to have at least five starts in 2013 and have each of them be a quality start.

    Right behind Wood is Carlos Villanueva. He started the season with four consecutive quality starts before getting hit around in his past two starts.

    The southpaw and Villanueva are both in the top 10 in the majors in batting average against and WHIP. Wood has a WHIP of 0.93, which makes him the only pitcher in the division with a WHIP below 1.00, and Villanueva is at 1.01.

    Neither Wood nor Villanueva average a strikeout per inning, but they have been the toughest pitchers to hit in the NL Central.

    Samardzija gives the Cubs a potential ace at the top of the rotation. He has had two shaky starts, but he has pitched better than his 1-4 record might indicate.His fastball overpowers hitters, and he can get grounders with consistency. He's been overshadowed by his teammates so far, but he has the most potential of anyone in this rotation.

    Scott Feldman has had an interesting season through six starts. He failed to get past the fifth inning and lost each of his first three starts, but he has thrown three straight quality starts to pick up wins, including a complete game against the San Diego Padres.

    The Cubs are probably regretting giving Edwin Jackson a four-year deal in the offseason. In four starts at Wrigley Field in 2013, he has an ERA of 9.00. His 3.18 road ERA is better, but he has only allowed three runs or fewer in two starts. The Cubs expected more consistency when they gave him that contract.

    Starting pitching has kept the Cubs from being talked about with the Houston Astros and the Miami Marlins. Chicago's starters have thrown the fourth-most innings, which keeps the bad bullpen off the mound.

    This rotation could be very good in the future, but it won't be good enough this year to help the Cubs overcome all of their other flaws.

No. 2: Cincinnati Reds

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    Starters:

    Johnny Cueto (3 GS, 17.1 IP, 1-0, 2.60 ERA, .194 BAA)

    Mat Latos (7 GS, 44.1 IP, 3-0, 2.23 ERA, .247 BAA)

    Bronson Arroyo (7 GS, 46 IP, 2-4, 4.30 ERA, .261 BAA)

    Homer Bailey (7 GS, 43.1 IP, 1-3, 3.83 ERA, .245 BAA)

    Mike Leake (7 GS, 41.2 IP, 2-2, 4.32 ERA, .303 BAA)

    Tony Cingrani (4 GS, 24 IP, 2-0, 2.63 ERA, .179 BAA)

    When Johnny Cueto went on the disabled list early in the season, Cincinnati fans were left wondering what would happen to the team. Tony Cingrani has put those worries to rest.

    The sensational rookie has been better than expected. He struck out 28 batters and allowed a total of three runs in 18 innings in his first three starts. He made two mistakes in his last start, but he has been very impressive.

    Without Cueto, the Reds needed someone to step up as their ace. Mat Latos has answered the call and then some. He started the year with six straight quality starts and threw 21.2 consecutive shutout innings. Poor outfield defense in his final inning of work snapped both of those streaks.

    Despite his efforts, Latos entered his fifth start without a win. He has won three straight starts and has helped the Reds stay near the top of the division.

    Homer Bailey has been sensational except for four innings this season. He has allowed 13 runs in those four innings, but he has allowed only five runs in the rest of his 38.2 innings in 2013. The right-hander has turned into a stud pitcher and will only get better as he goes on.

    Veteran Bronson Arroyo has been inconsistent this season, but he will still give the team six innings in his starts. When he's on, the Reds will be able to pull off more sweeps.

    For Reds fans wanting Aroldis Chapman in the rotation over Mike Leake, it's time to own up. Leake has done fairly well as the No. 5 pitcher, especially lately. The 25-year-old has allowed more than two runs only twice in his last five starts. 

    Cingrani has given the Reds the luxury of taking their time with Cueto. Once the ace returns, the team will have to decide if Leake gets to keep his spot or if Cingrani has done enough to stay in the majors.

    Just like last season, the Reds are tied with the Philadelphia Phillies for most innings thrown by the rotation. Cincinnati ranks third in the majors in ERA, sixth in strikeouts and ninth in WHIP. The starters are dealing right now.

    A big reason why they rank ahead of the Cubs is the depth of the rotation and the ability to sustain the success. Last season, the Reds showed how good their starting pitching can be, so they are more likely to keep up the great pitching, especially if Cingrani keeps pitching like this.

No. 1: St. Louis Cardinals

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    Starters:

    Adam Wainwright (7 GS, 49.2 IP, 4-2, 2.72 ERA, .272 BAA)

    Jaime Garcia (7 GS, 44 IP, 4-1, 2.25 ERA, .254 BAA)

    Jake Westbrook (6 GS, 39 IP, 2-1, 1.62 ERA, .275 BAA)

    Lance Lynn (7 GS, 43 IP, 5-1, 2.72 ERA, .192 BAA)

    Shelby Miller (6 GS, 36.2 IP, 4-2, 1.96 ERA, .209 BAA)

    The St. Louis Cardinals have had the best rotation in all of baseball through the first week of May. The Cardinals rank right behind the Reds in innings and strikeouts, but nobody is even close to them in terms of ERA.

    At 2.22, the Cardinals are the only team in baseball with an ERA below 3.00. The Detroit Tigers are second with a 3.04 ERA, but no NL team is within a run of the Cardinals. The Reds and the Cubs are tied for second at 3.41, so there is a wide gap between first and second.

    All of their numbers are great, but check out their earned run averages at Busch Stadium.

       Home  Road 
    Adam Wainwright   1.13   3.48
    Jaime Garcia   1.66   2.82
    Jake Westbrook   0.00   2.63
    Lance Lynn   1.35   3.91
    Shelby Miller   2.13   1.88

    Notice that there is a drop for most of the pitchers when they are away from home. Shelby Miller is the only pitcher to have an ERA above 2.00 at home, so whatever they are doing is working.

    Reds fans can say that their team plays at Great American Ball Park, but the Cardinals are pitching great on the road as well.

    Westbrook entered Wednesday with the lowest ERA in the majors, but it'll be interesting to see how long he can be this good. Since 2005, he has never finished with an ERA below 3.97 in a full season and has finished with an ERA below 4.00 only twice in his career.

    Wainwright has bounced back nicely from the worst season of his career, and he looks like a strong candidate for the NL Cy Young. He has the track record to show that he can keep it up, and he should be able to keep the Cardinals in contention all year.

    Lance Lynn will be the key to the rotation. Will he pitch like he did when he was an All-Star after the first half of the season, or will he be the guy who got sent to the bullpen for struggling in the second half?

    St. Louis has three different pitchers who have won at least 15 games in a season, and Jaime Garcia has won 13 games multiple times. Shelby Miller looks like a promising rookie, but he is the only one who hasn't proven himself in this rotation. If he keeps pitching this way, he will be a strong candidate for NL Rookie of the Year.

    This rotation is anchored by veteran pitchers, and it has easily been the best in baseball. With Cincinnati and St. Louis having such great starting pitching, the NL Central will have one of baseball's best races in the second half of the season.